Picture this, you’re at your favorite restaurant tucked cozily into a booth and enjoying your delicious meal. In the moments that you savor the last few bites you have left, you overhear a conversation happening in the booth next to you. Your eyes lock onto a cheerful 9-yr old who is having a meal with his mom. “Put your phone away while you eat!” you hear the mom say. Startled by this, the boy’s expression goes from cheerful to shock. The young man then begs his case with, “I have one more level left to finish in my game! I’m almost done!”
In the final show of strength, the mother’s eyes open wide and she quickly fires back, “put it away, or I will take it from you!” Having found defeat, the boy’s expression goes from shock to resentment while he puts the phone away in his pocket.
The heartbroken young boy begrudgingly continues onwards with his meal, where every bite seems to be a painful punishment without his device. You’re just about to turn your attention back to your meal, when you see the unthinkable unfold in front of your eyes. The mother pulls out her own smartphone and starts to dabble with her fingers intensely.
“How come YOU get to use your phone?” fires back the boy immediately with contempt. “I have an important email that needs my attention right now” says the mom. At this point, both you and the boy have the same expression and thought in your minds… “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”
Why being authentic matters
Scenarios like this happen all around us, and similarly, within the training world, your credibility can be shot in an instant when you knowingly or unknowingly break your own rules. When it comes to being an authentic trainer, the key idea is, “It’s not what you say that matters, it’s how you model the message.”
In my 10+ years of speaking to audiences and training individuals, I’ve found that being authentic and garnering trust goes a long way in the training world. It’s the basis for getting people to listen to you and more importantly, applying what they learn to create positive behavior change. My mantra has always been, “people will only listen to whom they trust.” As without a level of trust, between a trainer and participant, no meaningful transformation can possibly happen.
Here is how I develop trust and bring my most authentic self forward:
Be aligned with your ‘Why’
The one thing that I love most about my work is that aligns well with who I am as a person. My ‘Why’ is always front and center. Personal empowerment is a theme that runs constantly in my daily life and being a trainer provides me with opportunities to help others empower themselves.
I see many clients coming into workshops feeling like they need a big boost in their communication skills. From the get go, I model every single suggestion that I will offer in the class, and without even realizing it, the participants are picking up on my example. If I make a comment on how to gesture, even before I’ve verbally said it, I’ve practiced that concept over and over again from the morning. Magic is created at that point, because unlike that mom in the restaurant, there is no disconnect between what I say and how I model the message.
It’s at this point where I absolutely love witnessing these individuals go through a subtle inner transformation. They begin to feel more empowered while freeing themselves of the limiting beliefs they walked in with.
Being aligned with my ‘Why’ also pushes me to dig deeper to understand the limiting fear or doubt that doesn't allow my clients to own their communications space. Most times I see folks struggling to stay confident while presenting. Underneath that lack of confidence, there’s usually a limiting belief related to feeling that they are not good enough, experiencing fear of being judged by others or just trying to prove themselves for self-validation.
In those situations, I've worked with folks by taking on a coach role, and getting to the heart of the matter. It’s a huge revelation and big part of the self-awareness process when participants acknowledge that one of the reasons why they’ve not felt confident in presentations is because of a faulty belief system they have for themselves.
Encourage authenticity in others
Every human being has a unique personality, which reflects in his or her communication space as well. As much as I like to equip my clients with the right tools and techniques to be an effective presenter, I tend to focus more on bringing out their natural style. I strongly believe that a person who is comfortable with their natural style carries a level of confidence that makes them shine even brighter when presenting.
Many workshop participants come in with the false notion of being a great presenter by imitating a presenter they know. Not only does this cause the person to try too hard, but it also raises suspicion in their audiences. If a person behaves one way in normal conversations, and then behaves another way while they are presenting, immediately that disconnect causes distrust in audiences.
I remember early on in my career, I admired a communications coach who orated really well. After watching him for some time, I decided to imitate him in my presentations. I particularly remember how he used to say the word ‘amazing’ with such passion and energy that it landed powerfully with audiences. I went around parroting the word ‘amazing’ in the same way that he did and thought that it would boost my effectiveness. The first time I saw a video recording of myself saying that word, I cringed with horror, as I realized that I was completely butchering my credibility. Who I was showing up as in my presentations, was not who I was in normal conversation.
When I have an opportunity to coach people, I quickly study their strong points and work throughout the session to accentuate them. I acknowledge that the majority of what they are doing in their presentations is aligned with how they show up in person. When a person recognizes that their work is not to change their personality, but rather, highlight their beautiful personalities, it creates an immediate shift and increases ones confidence level.
The rest of the work is looking at the destructive habits that are taking participants away from being their best selves. For example, bringing awareness to them about the use of gestures and filler words simply enhances their natural presence and helps them in coming across as polished and confident speakers.
Create a connection with the eyes
An underrated, but highly effective piece of being authentic as a trainer is making a deliberate connection with the eyes of your audience. There have been numerous studies on how human beings are able to decipher hundreds of different emotional states on a subconscious level just by looking at a person’s face and eyes. For instance, states of amusement, grief, hollowness, frisky-ness, etc., can be processed just by a quick glance at a person’s eyes. There’s value in connecting with the eyes.
Personally, I’ve found that there is something about the human eye-to-eye connection that puts people at ease, both as a presenter and as an audience member. As a presenter, delivering a full thought to a person while connecting with the eyes is quite powerful. As an audience member, you feel valued and understood when a presenter has a mini 1-on-1 conversation with you.
I always ask participants in workshops, “How do you normally feel when having a 1-on-1 conversation with a colleague or friend?” Typically the response I get back is, “I feel good about it”. I then encourage folks to not see a presentation as this mighty monologue where they are the ones talking, talking, and talking only. Rather, I ask them to see every presentation as an opportunity to have a mini 1-on-1 with each and every person in the room.
Not only does this put everyone at ease, but it also creates the space within the room to open up, engage, and really see the authenticity in your presence. You no longer are a presenter in their eyes, but instead you become a trusted advisor. I mentioned the mantra earlier, “people will only listen to whom they trust.” Eye interaction is a necessity to create that authentic connection.
Be the example
In closing, it’s not too complicated to understand that being authentic is one of the greatest assets you can have as an influencer. In a world where everyone is trying to be like everybody else, it’s a breath of fresh air to come across those people that are who they are regardless of where they are.
Strive to be the example of what your truth, your message and inner voice are collectively saying. The more you stay aligned with who you really are, the more you’ll feel liberated and confident to express yourself without fear.